several rows of bright read theater seats

Psyching Up for That Presentation

I was talking to my wife today, and she’s delivering a couple of sessions tomorrow at a forum in Canada. She has reviewed all the documents, developed her presentation, and has all the talking points. How many of us have been there? I asked her how she felt, and it was “excited and intimidated.” That’s perfect!

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The Butterflies

When psyching up for a presentation, there’s nothing wrong with feeling intimidated, a little scared, or having a few butterflies in your stomach. It means you are emotionally invested. It means you still feel your content and are aware of your audience.

Your Fans

Maybe this isn’t true in all cases, but for most public speaking events, people want you to succeed. And that’s what I told my wife. The audience came to hear what she has to say. She knows her stuff. She’s passionate about it. She’s highly analytical and brings a lot of insight. The audience is there to hear you. It’s amazing. Don’t rush it, don’t belittle it. Breathe, take your time, and speak deliberately (your “slow” will probably still be fast to the audience).

Your Content

This is something I struggle with to this day. I can summarize and keep things short, and I can go into a lot of detail. In the end, there are two guideposts. One is time – how long you have to deliver your content. The other is the audience – and that is the tricky part. If your audience knows the subject, then you don’t want to waste their time with stuff they already know. If you are bringing up content that is new to them, then you want to give enough detail to clarify where you are coming from and allow them to connect the dots.

In the end, time will keep you honest. There are, let’s say, 3 key things at most that you want your audience to “take home,” right? Keep those takeaways clear in your mind, and the content will take care of itself.

The Mystic Runes

As I talked to my wife, she mentioned how she had all these materials on the ready. That’s great, and she will probably be delivering a deck (I lovingly call these “death by PowerPoint”). That’s fine. Sometimes, no matter how prepared we are, once we walk on to that stage, those slides turn into “mystic runes.” I don’t know if other people have experienced this, but it has happened to me. I look at my notes or my slides and they morph into an unintelligible language. I cannot read them.

At that point, the slides or notes are a crutch we lean on, and we have two options: take a moment to breath, and try to convert them back to our native language. Or, if that doesn’t work, I am fairly quick to fall back on plan B: become human. If we’ve been asked to be on stage, it’s because we know stuff that other people want to know. The people are there, wanting to know of the things. I am there. I often find, even if I cannot read, I can think about what I just said, and what I need to say next will just happen.

I already know that my wife does best when she’s not confined to a script. Maybe other folks do better on a script, but the takeaway here is: the audience is your fan base, they want you to succeed. Should your best planned content morphs into mystic runes, talk from your heart about the topic. That’s probably more valuable than your notes or slides anyway.


Certain forums are less “spice enabled” than others. If the audience is there to hear about a specific topic, then odds are, sticking to it is acceptable. However, “death by presentation” is a tricky game. So, depending on how long the content is, maybe spicing it up with a cartoon, or a quote, maybe even a personal anecdote, can go a long way in keeping the audience from going into an informational-overdose coma. You can tell if they are all staring blankly, 2 or 3 are head nodding a few rows in. If you hear any snoring, it’s time for some audience engagement!

I know what you are going to say, “I’m already nervous, when will I have time to assess this?” But in truth, you can. You can stop the whole presentation. It’s YOUR presentation. Just stop it and ask, “Is everyone still with me? Raise your hand if this is about the right pace.” They will gladly tell you because they want to enjoy your presentation and they want to clap at the end of it. Engage them a little.

Four-Wheel Drive

In fact, you can go off book. I just participated in a presentation where the speaker ad-libbed their way through the whole thing. They showed up, asked for some talking points about five minutes before the session, and then delivered over twenty minutes of content based on those talking points. OK, that was some skill. But what backed that skill? Two things, I think. One, this person had a depth of knowledge – they could speak for hours and hours about the subject at hand, so coming up with 10-20 minutes was easy when backed by that kind of experience. Two, they were willing to have a two-way conversation. This person approached the audience as their friend – and rightfully so, as mentioned above. No need to picture people in their underwear (in fact, I actually do not think that advice has ever been a good idea, although I appreciate the sentiment behind it). Just see the audience, no matter how large, as a group of 2-4 people. They’ve come over for dinner, and at this dinner, they asked you about [insert your presentation topic here]. Done!

You Can Ask

Again, the audience is there for you. In fact, it is more trendy than ever to be vulnerable. Go ahead and be quirky, find someone in your audience, point to them and ask, “you, in the pineapple shirt, is this slide useful to you?” Pineapple-shirt person will give you a thumbs up, thumbs down, maybe they make a snarky comment. Whatever happens, it will inject energy to help people wake up and be mindful of your content, and it will also help connect you to the audience. Even if they say something inflammatory, let that roll, laugh or whatever, thank them for the jolt and move on, because no matter what, it is YOUR presentation. Mayhaps you found the one frumpy one in the audience, or worst case, your whole audience is filled with frumpsters today, heck, you are just trying to share your insights with them. Odds are, most of them are sympathetic, but you do your best, you hit them up for candid feedback, be vulnerable, be yourself, and the rest is kinda on them, right?

You Got This

I’ve sat in some terrible, dry, mind-numbing presentations. During them, I would pull out my phone and check email or whatever. If your presentation is dry, boring or whatever, people are going to get through it, and life will go on. Don’t sweat it. I mean, the fact you are sweating is good! It’s natural. You are going to have fun sharing this information, and if you are having fun, then your audience will most likely have fun. See them as your partner, your dinner guests, people who both want to applaud for you and people to whom you can ask questions (survey via a hand raise or by singling out a random person). Focus on your passion, keep those 1-3 takeaways top of mind as you walk through your slides, and whether you hit every bullet point or not, you got this.

several rows of bright read theater seats
Photo from Pixabay

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